Analysis: Chapters 2–3

Bilbo’s impulsive bravery in the troll camp—including his burglarlike attempt to steal a money purse—begins his figurative transformation from an introvert to an adventurer. Though Bilbo is relieved when he thinks the dwarves have gone on without him, by the end of Chapter 2, he has already begun to prove Gandalf’s claim that there is more to Bilbo than meets the eye. Over the course of the novel, Bilbo gradually sheds his modern complacency and becomes more courageous and adventurous.

In the characters of the trolls, Tolkien combines characteristics of mythological creatures taken from Old English and Anglo-Saxon poems with those of popular fairy tales and folklore. The dwarves’ one-by-one approach to the troll camp subtly alludes to the sequential narratives of children’s fables like “The Three Billy-Goats Gruff,” which also features a group’s one-by-one confrontation with a troll. Tolkien also injects some modern humor into the story by giving the trolls cockney accents, the dialect of lower-class Londoners: “Mutton yesterday, mutton today, and blimey, if it don’t look like mutton again tomorrer.”

The swords that the company steals from the trolls’ cave are a link to the tradition of heroic epic on which so many aspects of The Hobbit are based. Great swords that have mythic lineages and heroic names are characteristically present in heroic epics, the most famous example being King Arthur’s legendary sword, Excalibur. The possession of a named sword is a symbol of heroism and prowess in battle, and for this reason, it is significant that Bilbo’s short sword is not named yet. As we shall see, after Bilbo performs some deeds more worthy of his quest, he names his sword.

In The Silmarillion, the swords are described as having been made for the goblin wars of an earlier age of Middle-Earth, in which the elves fought off the goblins. There is no question of which side was good and which evil—the evil nature of the goblins is described in Chapter 4, and the good nature of the elves is obvious from the glimpse we get of them at Rivendell in Chapter 3. Elves were the first creatures in Middle-Earth: they are immortal unless killed in battle; they are fair-faced, with beautiful voices; and they have a close communion with nature, which makes them skillful craftsmen. The unique magic of the swords, as Elrond tells the company in Chapter 3, is that they glow with a blue light when goblins are near.